Category Archives: Feast Days

On Saint Dunstan – May 19

St. Dunstan “shoeing the Devil’s hoof” – thus creating the Lucky Horseshoe superstition…

*   *   *   *

Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

This blog has three main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance.  (John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus did.  (John 14:12.)

And this thought ties them together:

The only way to live live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is to read the Bible with an open mind.  For more, see the notes below or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

May 19 is a Feast Day.  (Albeit a “minor one.”)  It celebrates St. Dunstan, who died in 988.

Among other things, Dunstan originated the Good Luck Horseshoe superstition.  For another, he created the British coronation ceremony that continues “even to this day.”  And finally, he once aroused such jealousy that he got beaten up, tied up and thrown into a cesspool.

But ultimately, he became popular.  Or as Wikipedia noted, “Until Thomas Becket‘s fame overshadowed Dunstan’s, he was the favorite saint of the English people.”  Which means that for a long time – back in the days of Merrie Olde England – St. Dunstan was “more popular than Richard Burton.”

(Burton played Becket in the 1964 film of the same name.  Peter O’Toole played King Henry II, on whose orders Becket was killed.)

So anyway, over a thousand years ago St. Dunstan rose through the ranks of the then-Catholic Church in England, and eventually became Archbishop of Canterbury.  And some centuries later – after King Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic church – the Archbishop of Canterbury became the “senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England,” and also the “symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.”

Which means that for a long time – a thousand years ago – Dunstan was pretty important:

His work restored monastic life in England and reformed the English Church…  Dunstan served as an important minister of state to several English kings.  He was the most popular saint in England for nearly two centuries, having gained fame for the many stories of his greatness, [including] those concerning his famed cunning in defeating the devil.

As shown in the image at the top of the page…

The story there is that one day the Devil asked Dunstan – skilled as a silversmith and metalworker – to shoe his horse.  But instead, Dunstan nailed a horseshoe to the Devil’s hoof.  “This caused the Devil great pain, and Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil after he promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is over the door.”

Which led to the Lucky Horseshoe Superstition.  (There’s an ongoing debate on whether the shoe should be hung “up” or “down,” detailed in the notes.)

Now about that being “beaten up and thrown into a cesspool.”

When he was young – and after first entering the service of the Church – he got appointed to the court of King Athelstan.  (Circa 894-939.)  He soon became a court favorite, which made the other “favorites” jealous.  They accused him of witchcraft and black magic and – after the king ordered him to leave – his enemies attacked him, beat him severely, tied him up and threw him into a cesspool.  (A modern version of which is seen at left.)  

Ironically, that experience may have led him back to the priesthood.  That is, after he managed to get out of the “muck” – literally – he made his way to the home of his  uncle, Ælfheah, Bishop of Winchester.

Uncle Ælfheah tried to persuade Dunstan to become a monk, but he had his doubts.  (Which isn’t surprising.)  For one thing, he wasn’t sure he had the “vocation to a celibate life.”  For another, there was that experience in the court of King Athelstan.  However:

The answer came in the form of an attack of swelling tumors all over Dunstan’s body. This ailment was so severe that it was thought to be leprosy.  It was more probably some form of blood poisoning caused by being beaten and thrown in the cesspool.  Whatever the cause, it changed Dunstan’s mind.

And ultimately led him to be named the Archbishop of Canterbury

But wait, there’s more!  That is, for more on this saint, see St. Dunstan, at the Satucket (Daily Office) website.  It noted a contest of wills between Dunstan and the newly-crowned King Eadwig. (Also spelled “Edwy.”)  The new king was 16 years old at the time, and when he reacted like a normal 16-year-old – newly freed from all restraint – Dunstan “rebuked [him] for unchastity.”

That led to Dunstan’s being exiled and a near-civil-war.  However:

When the dust settled, Edwy was dead, his brother Edgar was king, and Dunstan was Archbishop of Canterbury.  The coronation service which Dunstan compiled for Edgar is the earliest English coronation service of which the full text survives, and is the basis for all such services since, down to the present.

Or as  Wikipedia, put it:  “This service, devised by Dunstan himself … forms the basis of the present-day British coronation ceremony,” as shown in the photo below.

And finally, there’s a connection to Ascension Day, which we just celebrated:  “On Ascension Day in 988, he told the congregation that he was near to death, and died two days later.”

So here’s to Dunstan, who gave us the Lucky Horseshoe, created today’s British coronation ceremony – and even survived being beat up, tied up and thrown into a cesspool

*   *   *   *

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Dunstan – Wikipedia.  The full caption said that Dunstan was “shoeing the Devil’s hoof, as illustrated by George Cruikshank.”  

The “Richard-Burton-as-Becket” image is courtesy of Becket (Blu-ray) (1964) … oldies.com.  See also Becket (1964 film) – Wikipedia and Becket (1964) – IMDb.  Note also that the phrase “more popular than Burton” is an allusion to the “More popular than Jesus” hubbub in 1966.  (At which time yours truly was a mere 15 years old.)  The “hubbub” arose from a comment by John Lennon:

During an interview, he argued that Christianity was in decline and that it may be outlived by rock music, explaining … “Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary.  It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”  The comment drew no controversy when originally published in the United Kingdom, but angry reactions flared up in Christian communities when it was republished in the United States five months later…  Shortly after the controversy broke, Lennon reluctantly apologised for the comment, saying “if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it.”  [E.A.]

Re:  The “horseshoe debate.”  See Horseshoe Superstition … Hanging Over Doorway.

The lower image is courtesy of Coronation | The Royal Family, which noted:

The coronation ceremony, an occasion for pageantry and celebration, but it is also a solemn religious ceremony, has remained essentially the same over a thousand years.  For the last 900 years, the ceremony has taken place at Westminster Abbey, London.  The service is conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury…

*   *   *   *

As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has three main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus did.  (John 14:12).  

A fourth main theme is that the only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity.  According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable…  Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians.  They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.”  But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…   (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…)

Now, about “Boot-camp Christians.”  See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by “learning the fundamentals.”  But after boot camp, you want to move on to more Advanced Individual Training

Also, and as noted in “Buck private,” I’d previously said the theme of this blog was that if you really want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*”  

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpgIn other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.”  See Slogans of the United States Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001.  The related image at left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.”

*  Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”)

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?

Ascension Day 2017 – “Then He opened their minds…”

 “Jesus’ ascension to heaven,” by John Singleton Copley – after He “opened their minds…”

*   *   *   *

The next major Feast Day commemorates the Ascension, and this year comes on May 25.  This Feast commemorates the “bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven,” and is “ecumenical.”  (That is, it’s “universally celebrated.”)  In terms of importance it ranks up there “with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter, and Pentecost.”

It’s always celebrated on a Thursday, the 40th day of Easter.

More precisely, it’s celebrated on the 40th day of Eastertide, the 50-day church season running from Easter Day to Pentecost Sunday.

On that note, last year – 2016 – Ascension Day was celebrated on May 5.  (See Ascension Day and Pentecost – 2016, a post featuring the image above left, with the caption:  “Before Jesus could Ascend into Heaven, He had to Descend into Hell….”)

Which is another way of saying that since Easter Sunday is a moveable feast – a “liturgical event that comes on a different date each year – all the other feast days measured after Easter get shifted around too.  (Like Ascension Day and Pentecost.)  And all that’s not to be confused with A Moveable Feast.  That’s the title of Ernest Hemingway‘s memoir – published posthumously in 1964 – about his years as a struggling young writer in Paris in the 1920s.

And just as an aside, the title of Hemingway’s memoir was a “play on words for the term used for a holy day for which the date is not fixed.”  (Like Christmas, always celebrated on December 25.)  Which is as good a definition as any, but we digress!!!

More to the point, you can see the full Bible readings for the feast at Ascension Day.  Or you could check out two other prior posts, On Ascension Day 2015 and – from 2014 – On Ascension Day.  (That year it was celebrated on May 29.)  

The event itself was described in Luke 24, which starts with the first Easter day – “the women” finding the empty tomb – followed by the Road to Emmaus appearance.  That’s followed in turn by the last of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.  The two disciples at Emmaus had gotten up and “returned at once to Jerusalem.  There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together.”  Jesus then appeared in the midst of all of them, and taught them things; i.e., He “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (E.A.)

On that note see Luke 24:45, which – BTW – pretty much sums up the main theme of this blog.

And finally, Jesus led the disciples out of the room and on out of Jerusalem.  See Luke 24:50-51:

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.

File:Leloir - Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.jpgAll of which may be pretty hard to believe, but that’s also addressed in 2014’s On Ascension Day.  It talked about things like Arguing with God – which included the imag at left – and the First law of thermodynamics.  (Which is – I argued – proof positive that the human soul – a definite form of energy – is neither “created nor destroyed, but simply changes form.”)  

The point being that there are some Christians who definitely believe you shouldn’t argue with God.  And there are lots of other people out there who don’t believe the whole idea of life after life – or after death – or for that matter the “bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven.”

Which brings up Robin Williams’ “Top Ten…”

To explain:  If you type “ascension day” in the search box above right, that Top Ten post will be the fourth post down.  (Right before Jesus in Hell.)  Specifically, the list at issue is Robin Williams’ Top 10 reasons to be an Episcopalian.  (Which is definitely one of the “believer” groups.)

One of the key points of Williams’ list:  Stop worrying so much about trying to understand the hard-to-understand parts of the Bible.  (Like the bodily Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.)

Instead, focus on our own “life’s journey, leaving our destination to a ‘Higher Power.’”  That is, “celebrate life as a pilgrimage as the basic metaphor of Christian life.”  Which is one way to turn tragedy into something to laugh at, and so deal with much better.  And so enjoy the pilgrimage:

I have a feeling that somewhere, somehow – “even as we speak” – the spirit of Robin Williams is making some being – some entity – laugh his or her spiritual butt off.

And the key to that approach is reading the Bible with an open mind.  In turn, if anyone objects, we can say we are simply following the example of Jesus as told in Luke 24:45:

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

*   *   *   *

Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam

Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam. . .

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article, Ascension of Jesus, with the full caption:  “Jesus’ ascension to heaven depicted by John Singleton Copley, 1775.”   

The lower image is from Channel 4 News apologises for Robin Williams gaffe.  The “gaffe” came after Williams‘ death-by-suicide on August 11, 2014:  “Broadcaster criticised after tribute to late actor features ‘get a rope and hang me’ quote from Good Morning Vietnam.”  The Gaffe post added this:

Channel 4 News has apologised after airing a clip of Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam saying: “Get a rope and hang me,” a day after the star’s suspected suicide. . .  Channel 4 came in for criticism for the gaffe.

On Saint Philip, Saint James, and “privy members”

Rubens apostel philippus.jpg

Philip the Apostle – the saint we know is being celebrated on Monday, May 2…”

*   *   *   *

Monday, May 1, was the  Feast Day of and for Saint Philip and Saint James.  I covered these two saints in last year’s Philip and James – Saints and Apostles.

That post included the painting of St. Philip at the top of the page.  (Along with the “quotated” caption discussed further below.*)  It also included the photo at right – of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry – along with the mock caption:

“So, punk, do you feel like getting chastened and liberated?”  

(The post talked about the kind of ritual – religious and otherwise – that should “pervade a healthy society.”  It also noted that a good pilgrimage – a kind of religious ritual “on the move” – can be “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of human experiences.)

But we digress…   The point of the caption at the top of the page is that we know who the “Philip” is that we celebrate on May 1.  We’re not so sure about the “James…”

According to the Satucket (Daily Officearticle on Philip and James – there are eight possible “Jameses” who could be celebrated on May 1.  These include but not limited to:  1) James the Greater (or “James, son of Zebedee”);  James the Less (“either the younger or shorter of two”); and/or James the Just (also known as the brother of Jesus).  At any rate, the full list of eight is included in the notes below.  (And incidentally, that “James the son of Zebedee” is the patron saint of pilgrims and pilgrimages.  See e.g., On “St. James the Greater.”)

But again, even though we don’t know exactly which James is being celebrated on May 1, we do know which “Philip” is being celebrated.

This Philip was the Apostle described in Acts of the Apostles (8:26-40), and the Wikipedia article on Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. (As shown at left.)   And speaking of last year’s post – Philip and James – Saints and Apostles – it noted that as a eunuch the Ethiopian was an untouchable, at least from a Christian fundamentalist standpoint.

That’s because of Deuteronomy 23:1.  On that note, the New Living Translation is pretty specific (if not graphic):  “If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.”  The King James Bible – the one that God uses – puts the matter more delicately:  “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD:”

Yet Philip, guided by God’s Spirit, does not hesitate to share the good news of God’s love and salvation with this less than whole Ethiopian and to baptize him into the faith, to welcome him into the life of the Christian church.  This new faith is for all, God’s love is for every human being no matter what disability or disease or affliction has come our way.

(See “Wesley Uniting Church.”)  In other words, the point of Acts 8:26-40 – and the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch – is that God’s Love is Universal.  

Which is – I suppose – just another way of saying that God will accept anyone.  (As described in John 6:37, where Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”)  Or see On total love – and “the Living Vine.”  The point of that post as well was, first, that God’s love is universal.

The second point was that we as Christians should try to imitate that all-encompassing love.  Or as Jesus aptly – and succinctly – put it in his summary of the entire Bible:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ said:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it:  you shall love your neighbor as yourself.   On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

That’s from Matthew 22, verses 37-40, emphasis added.  In plain words, our goal in life should be to “live in full communion,” with both God and even our most obnoxious neighbor.  And be good stewards of nature besides.  (On that note, Earth Day was last April 22.)

*   *   *   *

Earth Day Flag created by John McConnell…”

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Philip the Apostle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption: “St. Philip, by Peter Paul Rubens, from his Twelve Apostles series (c. 1611), at the Museo del Prado, Madrid.”  That article added:  “In the Roman Catholic Church, the feast day of Philip, along with that of James the Just, was traditionally observed on 1 May, the anniversary of the dedication of the church dedicated to them in Rome (now called the Church of the Twelve Apostles).”  A note:  “James the Just” is third on the Satucket list, just below James the Greater and James the Lesser.

Re:  “Quotated.”  The reference is to part of the lyrics from Alice’s Restaurant.  See also Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant lyrics | LyricsMode.com:  

And I filled out the massacre with the four part harmony, and wrote it
Down there, just like it was, and everything was fine and I put down the
Pencil, and I turned over the piece of paper, and there, there on the
Other side, in the middle of the other side, away from everything else on
The other side, in parentheses, capital letters, quotated, read the
Following words:

(“KID, HAVE YOU REHABILITATED YOURSELF?”)

Re:  The full list of eight possible “Jameses” celebrated on May 1:

(1) JAMES THE GREATER: James the son of Zebedee, called James the Greater or James Major or James the Elder, was one of the Twelve Apostles, and also, along with his brother John and with Peter, belonged to what seems to have been an inner circle of Three. He was killed by order of King Herod, as reported in Acts 12:2. (See M 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; P 1:19,29; 3:17; 5:37; 9:2; 10:35,41; 13:3; 14:33; L 5:10; 6:14; 8:51; 9:28,54; A 11:13; 12:2)

St. James Minor, from a 1708 Book of Common Prayer(2) JAMES THE LESS: James the son of Alphaeus (Alpheus) appears on lists of the Twelve Apostles (usually in the ninth place), but is never mentioned otherwise. He is called James the Less, or James Minor, or James the Younger. (See M 10:3; P 3:18; L 6:15; A 1:13)

(3) JAMES THE JUST: James called “the brother of the Lord” appears in Acts 12:17 and thereafter (A 15:13; 21:18; 1C 15:17; Ga 1:19; 2:9,12) as the leader of the Jerusalem congregation. He is counted by later Church historians as the first bishop of Jerusalem, with Simeon (described as also a kinsman, something like a great-nephew of Joseph) as the second. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, James was put to death by order of the high priest during an interval between Roman governors, over the protests of the Pharisees, who thought him an upright man. He is known as James the Just or James of Jerusalem or James Protepiscopus (first bishop).

(4) JAMES THE WRITER: One of the New Testament Epistles is written by a James. (See Jas 1:1)

(5) JAMES THE SON OF CLEOPAS:
John (19:25) lists the women standing by the cross of Jesus as “his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” If this list mentions only three women, then Mary the wife of Clopas is presumably a sister-in-law to the Virgin Mary.
The Synoptists give lists of women apparently at a distance.
Matthew (27:55f) lists as “looking on from afar” some Galilean women “among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”
Mark (15:40f) lists “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the Younger and of Joses, and Salome… and also many other women.”
Luke (24:10) lists “Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them.”
By “mother of James…” do the Synoptists denote the mother of Jesus? It seems odd that they would omit to mention her if she were there, but odder yet that they would identify her as the mother of James and Joseph (Joses), but not as the mother of Jesus. Besides, we note that Matthew and Mark are speaking of women who stood at a distance, while the Virgin was close enough to hear her Son speak. I therefore assume that Mary the mother of James etc is not the same as the Virgin Mary, and is either not mentioned by John at all or is identical with his “Mary the wife of Clopas,” who is probably the sister-in-law of the Virgin Mary. Conclusion: James the son of Clopas was perhaps the nephew of either Mary or Joseph, and so would have been known as the first cousin of Jesus.

(6) JAMES THE NAZARENE: The residents of Nazareth speak of brothers of Jesus, including one named James (M 4:55 = P 6:3).

(7) JAMES THE KINSMAN OF JUDE THE APOSTLE: When Luke lists the Apostles (L 6:16; A 1:13), he has, in places 9 thru 11, “James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas of James.” [This is not Judas Iscariot.] Now, “Judas of James” would ordinarily mean “Judas son of James,” and so the RSV translates it. However, the KJV renders is as “Judas the brother of James,” and some suppose him to be the brother of James the son of Alphaeus, so that we have no fewer than three pairs of brothers among the disciples: Peter and Andrew, sons of Jonas; James and John, sons of Zebedee; James and Jude, sons of Alphaeus. This seems unlikely, since (a) if Luke had intended us to understand that the two were brothers, he would have written them together instead of separating them by Simon the Zealot (but note P 3:16-18); and (b) if he had meant us to understand “brother of” rather than the more usual “son of”, he would have said “brother.”

(8) JAMES THE BROTHER OF JUDE THE WRITER:   The author of the Epistle of Jude calls himself the brother of James. Presumably this James would be someone well-known to his readers, otherwise why bother to mention him?

Here are the full Daily Office readings for Saint Philip and Saint James “AM Psalm 119:137-160Job 23:1-12; John 1:43-51, PM Psalm 139Proverbs 4:7-18; John 12:20-26.”  For yet another take, see Daily Office update (and “scapegoating.”

The lower image is courtesy of Earth Day – Wikipedia.  See also Remembering the Purpose of Earth Day, and from last year, Pope Francis Urges All People to Protect the Earth On 45th Anniversary of Earth Day.  (For a contrasting take on the “politics” of Pope Francis,” see On the “Gospel of Marx.”)

 

On “Doubting Thomas Sunday” – 2017

“Martyrdom of St. Thomas” – the original Doubting Thomas – on the Malabar Coast of India…

*   *   *   *

Resurrection (24).jpgToday is officially the Second Sunday of Easter.

Note the “of,” rather than “after.”  That’s because Easter is “not just one day, but an entire season.”  It’s a full season of 50 days – called Eastertide – that runs from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. (See Frohliche Ostern, which includes the image at left.)

So while today is technically the first Sunday after Easter, it is better known as the Second Sunday of Easter.  Actually, it’s really better known as Low Sunday.  That’s mostly because church attendance falls off so drastically that first Sunday “after.”  (Compared with the high attendance of Easter Day.  See also “CEOs;”  i.e., Christians who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.)

You could also call this day the “Sunday of Many Names.”  For example, it’s known as “Doubting Thomas Sunday.”  That’s mostly because the Gospel lesson always tells the story of the disciple Thomas.  (See e.g. John 20:19-31, “which recounts the story of Christ appearing to the Apostle Thomas in order to dispel the latter’s doubt about the Resurrection.”  Which made him in essence the original – the prototype – Doubting Thomas.”)

And today is known as the Octave of Easter.  (In this case the Octave in question is the eight-day period “in Eastertide that starts on Easter Sunday and runs until the Sunday following Easter.”)

Finally, it’s known as “Quasimodo Sunday.”  But that’s not because of Quasimodo, the guy – shown at right – who is better known as the “Hunchback of Notre Dame:”

Instead, the name comes from a Latin translation of the beginning of First Peter 2:2 , a traditional “introit” used in churches on this day.  First Peter 2:2 begins – in English and depending on the translation – “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile…”  [Or, “pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”]  In Latin the verse reads:  “Quasi modo geniti infantes…”    Literally, “quasi modo means ‘as if in [this] manner.’”

Since “geniti” translates as “newborn” and the translation of “infantes” seems self-evident, the “quasi modo” in question roughly translates, “As if in the manner” (of newborn babes)…  And incidentally, that character in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was named after the opening words of First Peter 2:2.  (See The Bible – Lectionary Musings and Color Commentary, and also First musings – The readings for “Doubting Thomas” Sunday, both from April 24, 2014).

As Wikipedia noted, a doubting Thomas is “a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience, a reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.”

Aside from the posts noted above, I’ve written about this disciple in Doubting Thomas – and Peter Restored, and Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India.”  The “Passage to India” post noted that according to tradition, Thomas became a  missionary who traveled to India.  That is, he sailed to India in the year 52 AD, to spread the Christian faith:

According to tradition, St. Thomas was killed in 72 AD[, possibly] at Mylapore near Chennai in India…  This is the earliest known record of his martyrdom..   Some Patristic literature state[s] that St. Thomas died a martyr, in east of Persia or in North India by the wounds of the four spears pierced into his body by the local soldiers.

Which is what the painting at the top of the page shows.  Put another way, in his travels Thomas “ultimately reached India, carrying the Faith to the Malabar Coast” – shown at right in red, on the southwestern coast of India – “which still boasts a large native population calling themselves ‘Christians of St. Thomas.’”

On the other hand, the Peter Restored post addressed the question:  If you doubt and question your faith – like Thomas did – will that faith actually grow stronger?

In other words, how do we as Christians deal with our doubts?

The theme of this post is that – for boot-camp Christians – the answer is simple:  You shouldn’t have any doubts.  In other words, you should “blindly believe.”  But for the rest of us there’s another answer, and that answer ultimately provides a stronger Christian faith:

Remember Thomas, the disciple, who wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he put his hand into Jesus’s wounds.  He went on to die spreading the gospel in Persia and India.  God gave us free choice, He doesn’t want us to be robots, He could have made us like that, but wanted us to choose for ourselves.  You learn and grow by questioning. (E.A.)

And by doing that you’ll probably end up – spiritually anyway – like the kindly, gentle, learned disciple shown in the painting below.  (Another view of St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens.)  And that’s the kind of disciple who could convert people to Christianity even in a continent made up of Hindus and Muslims; that is, an otherwise unfertile continent for conversion, yet “which still boasts a large native population calling themselves ‘Christians of St. Thomas.’”

Which brings up The True Test of Faith.  Somehow Thomas seemed to have the kind of faith that – even if he ultimately found that the whole “Jesus thing” was a hoax – he’d still end up saying, at the end of his life, “You know, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

*   *   *   *

Peter Paul Rubens: St Thomas

St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Thomas the Apostle – Wikipedia.  The full caption: “Martyrdom of St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens.”

Re:  “Low Sunday.”  See Why Attendance Will Be Low This Sunday, and also Low Sunday | Article about Low Sunday by The Free Dictionary.

The Wikipedia caption for the image of Quasimodo reads:  “Esmeralda gives a drink to Quasimodo in one of Gustave Brion‘s illustrations.”

Re Introit.  Merriam-Webster defines it as either “the first part of the traditional proper of the Mass consisting of an antiphon, verse from a psalm, and the Gloria Patri,” or a “piece of music sung or played at the beginning of a worship service.”  The Gloria Patri generally goes like this:  “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, and now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.”

Re:Both from April 24, 2014.”  I apparently published two separate posts on the same topic.

The lower image is courtesy of Peter Paul Rubens: St Thomas – Art and the Bible

Frohliche Ostern – “Happy Easter!”

“An Easter postcard depicting the Easter Bunny…”

*   *   *   *

Resurrection (24).jpgToday is Easter Sunday.   That is, the day of the …

… festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary [circa] 30 AD.  It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

And incidentally, the painting above left shows Jesus has “having kicked down the gates of Hades.”  It also shows “Satan, depicted as an old man … bound and chained.”

Which pretty much sums up the Lesson of Easter.  But what’s this about the Easter Bunny?

That tradition – first noted around 1682 – was based on folklore that had already been around awhile, and as practiced by German Lutherans.  In turn, the Easter Bunny – or more accurately, the Easter Hare – “played the role of a judge,” evaluating whether children were good or bad, especially in the days leading up to “the start of the season of Eastertide.”

Which brings up the fact that Easter is “not just one day, but an entire season.”  That full season is also called Eastertide, defined as that long period – 50 days – that runs from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.  (See On Eastertide – and “artistic license”.”  And for more on Pentecost, see “Happy Birthday, Church!”)  But getting back to the tradition of the Easter Bunny:

In legend, the creature carries colored eggs in his basket, candy, and sometimes also toys to the homes of children, and as such shows similarities to Santa Claus or the Christkind, as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holidays.

One author noted the “hare was the sacred beast of Eastre (or Eostre), a Saxon goddess of Spring and of the dawn.”  (The “Saxon goddess” is at right.)  In turn, the goddess – called “Ēostre” or “Ostara” – is the “namesake of the festival of Easter in some languages.”

Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ [“Easter-month,” in general, the month of April], pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Ēostre’s honor, but that this tradition [was] replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

Which brings up the real reason for the Easter Season.  It’s pretty much summed up in the painting below, by Rembrandt.  (As told in Easter Season – AND BEYOND, from April 2015):

Mary Magdalen had just found Jesus’ grave empty, and asks a bystander what has happened. In her confusion she thinks the man is a gardener.  Only when he replies with “Mary!” does she realize who she’s talking to.  To illustrate Mary’s confusion, Jesus is often depicted as a gardener in this scene.

See also Mark 16:1-8.  And as noted in Easter Season – AND BEYOND, the event celebrated on Easter Sunday has sparked an going debate that continues “even to this day.”  On the one hand there is the idea – illustrated in El Greco‘s “The Resurrection.“  (Q.v.)  It shows the Risen Messiah “in a blaze of glory … holding the white banner of victory over death.”

On the other hand there are all those Doubting Thomases.  They are the “rationalists” among us who “can’t be persuaded by and through any direct evidence of the Resurrection.”  Which is probably why the Sunday right after Easter is also known as Doubting Thomas Sunday.  (See Second Sunday of Easter and/or John 20:19-31, and also Thomas the Apostle – Wikipedia.)

But for those of us who believe, we celebrate this day because – by and through it – Jesus gave us all power to become children of God.  And that ain’t exactly chopped liver

*   *   *   *

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen

“The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen…”

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Easter – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Resurrection (24).jpgThe “Jesus and Satan” image – shown in a larger version at left – is also courtesy of Easter – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “Icon of the Resurrection, with Christ having kicked down the gates of Hades and pulling Adam and Eve out of the tombs. Christ is flanked by saints, and Satan, depicted as an old man, is bound and chained.”

Re: “Christkind.”  The term refers to “the traditional Christmas gift-bringer,” in parts of Europe and South America. “Promulgated by Martin Luther at the Protestant Reformation  … many Protestants adopted this gift bringer…”  As such, the “Lutheran Church promoted Christ as the children’s gift-giver, hoping to draw attention to the child for whom Christmas was named.”  The Christkind is a “sprite-like child, usually depicted with blond hair and angelic wings.  Martin Luther intended it to be a reference to the incarnation of Jesus as an infant.”  Later, the “Christkind was adopted in Catholic areas of Germany during the 19th century.”

Re: “Power to become children of God.”  See John 1:12, from one of the Daily Office Readings for today, April 16, 2017.  See also Romans 8:14 and Romans 8:16:  “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” and “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

The lower image is courtesy of “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen” – Art and the Bible.  See also Rembrandt – Wikipedia, and/or Rembrandt van Rijn: Life and Work.

Psalm 22 and the “Passion of Jesus”

Holy Week started with “Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem …”

*   *   *   *

Holy Week is upon us.  It’s the last week of Lent.  (Which started back on March 1, with Ash Wednesday, as shown at right).  And it’s the week that leads up to Easter Sunday.  (This year, April 16.) 

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and includes “Holy Wednesday (also known as Spy Wednesday), Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), Good Friday (Holy Friday), and Holy Saturday.”

Which sets up the reference to Psalm 22.  It was a Daily Office Reading for Friday, April 7, and Psalm 22 is inextricably intertwined with the “Passion of Jesus.”  (A reference to the “2004 American biblical epic drama film directed by Mel Gibson,” alluded to in the post title.)

Scholars believe that Psalm 22 was written some 600 years before Jesus was born.  (That is, in the “pre-exilic period … before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587.)  The first words of the Psalm – at least in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, shown at left – are “Deus, Deus meus.”  In English we know the verse better as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We know that verse well because that’s the psalm Jesus quoted on the cross, as told in Matthew 27:46:  “About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?'”  (See also Mark 15:34.)  

What most people don’t realize is that Psalm 22:1 goes on:  “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”  (And that’s a thought many have had from time to time…)

Then there is Psalm 22, verse 16, which reads in part, “they pierce my hands and my feet.”

Which is pretty much what they did to Jesus at the Crucifixion.

In that historical method of capital punishment – as shown at right – “the victim is tied or nailed to a large wooden beam and left to hang for several days until eventual death from exhaustion and asphyxiation.”

(But see also 10 Misconceptions About Jesus: [He] was pierced through His hands.  The article noted among other things that there was a “translation difficulty” involving the original Greek word usually translated as hand:  “The word xeiros, which we translate to ‘hand’ has a wider semantic range.”  Then there is the fact that – anatomically speaking – the “bones and tendons of the hand simply do not have the strength to hold the weight of the body without the nail ripping through.  The easiest and strongest place to hammer a nail is through the wrist, between the ulna and radius bones.”

And finally comes Psalm 22:18.  In the NIV it reads:  “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”  That verse from Psalm 22 was mirrored in Matthew 27:35:  “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments by casting lots.”

So, in order, Matthew 27 tells first of Judas Iscariot hanging himself for betraying Jesus.  Then comes “Jesus Before Pilate,” followed by “The Soldiers Mock Jesus” and “The Crucifixion of Jesus.”  Finally there is “The Death of Jesus,” with its three references to Psalm 22.  

gospelgeeks.netThe first reference came with the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:32-44), when Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross.  They fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:16, which notes, “they pierce my hands and my feet.”  (Or feet and wrists, depending on the translation of the Greek wordxeiros.”)  Then came Matthew 27:35, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

And finally, in Matthew 27:46 Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, crying out “in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’”

All of which is pretty depressing, at first blush.  But here’s a spoiler alert:  There is a happy ending, and we get to find out all about it next Sunday…

*   *   *   *

Thepassionposterface-1-.jpg

Another hint: Good Friday leads to the happy ending…

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Palm Sunday (Wikipedia).  The full caption:  “Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem depicted by James Tissot.”  I used the image in 2015’s On Holy Week – and hot buns.  See also On Holy Week – 2016.

The full readings for Friday April 7 were “AM Psalm 95 & 22;  PM Psalm 141, 143:1-11(12)
Jer. 29:1,4-13; Rom. 11:13-24; John 11:1-27 or 12:1-10.”

For further information on Psalm 22:16 see They have pierced my hands and my feet – Wikipedia.

The “crucifixion” image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article.  The caption:  “‘Crucifixion of Jesus’ by Marco Palmezzano (Uffizi, Florence), painting c. 1490.”

The lower image is courtesy of Passion of the Christ – Wikipedia.  The full caption for this theatrical release poster reads:  “This is a poster for the MOPTOP #1 The Passion of the Christ. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film.”  Further provisos:  1) Under the heading Portion Used:  “The entire poster: because the image is poster art, a form of product packaging or service marketing, the entire image is needed to identify the product or service, properly convey the meaning and branding intended, and avoid tarnishing or misrepresenting the image.”  2)  Under Other information:  “Use of the poster art in the article complies with Wikipedia non-free content policy and fair use under United States copyright law as described above.”

On Moses and Paul “dumbing it down…”

In writing his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul – like Moses – “had to really dumb it down…”

*   *   *   *

I should note first that Friday March 25 was the Feast of the “Annunciation.”  That celebrates the day – nine months before Christmas – that the Virgin Mary “would conceive and become the mother of Jesus.”  (See last year’s Annunciation “gets the ball rolling,” and also An Annunciation-Good Friday anamoly, which noted that in 2016 the Annunciation was celebrated on Good Friday; thus the anomaly, an “odd, peculiar, orstrange condition, situation, quality, etc.”)

*   *   *   *

Philippe de Champaigne - Moses with the Ten Commandments - WGA04717.jpgI ended the last post by observing that when he wrote the first five books of the Bible, Moses – at right – had to really dumb it down.

In plain words, when he wrote the Torah Moses was forced by circumstances “to use language and concepts that his ‘relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience’ could understand.’”

Moses was addressing an audience of the largely “unwashed” … illiterate men and women who had been trained since birth to be “mindless, docile slaves…”  Suppose Moses had mentioned dinosaurs in his writings.  Or how “we” revolve around that “big bright thing in the sky.”  The result would have been similar to what nearly happened [in] Exodus 17:4, “Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘What should I do with these people?  They are ready to stone me!’”

(See My “pain in the back.”)  Which is one good reason why Moses wouldn’t have mentioned dinosaurs, or said things like “the earth we live on actually revolves around that ‘big bright thing in the sky.'”  If he had told his contemporary audience such things he would have gotten stoned, burned at the stake or worse.  (See On Moses getting stoned.)

Which is another way of saying that all the people who wrote the Bible had to keep in mind the human limitations of their audience.  They were trying to put incomprehensible things into plain and simple language that even the most obtuse dolt could understand.  Or to paraphrase Sir Kenneth Clark, the people who wrote the Bible had to have the intellectual power to make God comprehensible.

Which is no mean trick.

And which brings up one main theme of this blog:  That reading the Bible means operating on at least two different planes.  The first is the literal plane, the literal story of Jesus – which is so simple that even a child can understand it.  But understanding the second plane requires more thought, more persistence, more work – and having more of an open mind.

Which is another way of saying that no one can ever know all there is to know about the Bible.

There will always be more to learn…

Which is pretty much the point the Apostle Paul – seen at right – was trying to make in Romans 6:19.  (From one of the Daily Office Readings for Saturday, March 25.)  In the New International Version the passage reads:  “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations.”  In the International Standard Version:  “I am speaking in simple terms because of the frailty of your human nature.”

But either way you translate the passage, the point is that Paul – like Moses – “had to really dumb it down.”  But that was also pretty much the point of Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Then too, Paul made pretty much the same point in Galatians 4:21-5:1, one of today’s New Testament Daily Office Readings.  Specifically, in Galatians 4:24 he used an allegory.  (The image at left shows a “Christian allegorical map of The Journey of Life.”)

Paul used this allegory – in Galatians 4:21-5:1 – to illustrate the difference between salvation through faith in Jesus and – reasonably interpreted – trying to achieve salvation through following the “letter of the law:”

Now this is an allegory:  these women are two covenants.  One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery…  But the other woman [“Sarai,” or Sarah, the wife of Abraham] corresponds to the Jerusalem above;  she is free, and she is our mother.

See also the GOD’S WORD® Translation of Galatians 4:24, which has Paul saying, “I’m going to use these historical events as an illustration.  The women illustrate two arrangements.”

Which – you could say – is what the Bible does on a regular basis:  Use “historical events as an illustration.”  And then of course there’s the end of John’s Gospel, John 21:25:  “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.  Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Or as it says in the Matthew Henry Commentary for John 21:25:

Only a small part of the actions of Jesus had been written…  Enough is recorded to direct our faith, and regulate our practice…  We may, however, look forward to the joy we shall receive in heaven, from a more complete knowledge of all Jesus did and said, as well as of the conduct of his providence and grace in his dealings with each of us.

Which seems to be a fact that many Biblical literalists seem to overlook.  You begin your process of Bible-reading and study by “learning the fundamentals.”  But then – after your spiritual boot camp – you’ll want to move on to more Advanced Individual Training, as noted below.  That way – using an open-minded approach – you can get a head start on gaining a “more complete knowledge” of all that Jesus did and said, as well as a knowledge of the whole Bible itself.

And which brings up one final point for today:

“It was never ‘contrary to Scripture’ that the earth revolved around the sun.  It was only contrary to a narrow-minded, pigheaded, too-literal reading of the Scripture…”

*   *   *   *

Galileo facing the Inquisition, for saying the earth revolved around the sun…

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on the Apostle Paul.  The caption:  “‘Paul Writing His Epistles,’ painting attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, 17th century.”

The full Daily Office Bible readings for Saturday, March 25, include:  “AM Psalm 87, 90; PM Psalm 136Jeremiah 13:1-11; Rom. 6:12-23; John 8:47-59.”  See also The Annunciation:  “AM: Psalm 85, 87; Isaiah 52:7-12; Hebrews 2:5-10  PM: Psalm 110:1-5(6-7), 132;Wisdom 9:1-12John 1:9-14.”  See also The Lectionary – Satucket Software Home Page.

The Kenneth Clark paraphrase is from the hardcover book version of Clark’s Civilisation (TV series). On pages 84-85 of the book, Clark compared the poet Dante with the painter Giotto.  Then on page 85, Clark noted the differences between the two men, beginning with the fact that “their imaginations moved on very different planes.”  But in the film version – and only in the film or TV version – Clark said Dante had  “that heroic contempt for baseness that was to come again in Michelangelo.   Above all, that vision of a heavenly order and the intellectual power to make it comprehensible.”  Which is the phrase that drew my attention…  See also Wikipedia, for more on the TV series.

The “allegory” image is courtesy of Wikipedia’s Allegorical interpretation of the Bible, referring to the:

…interpretive method (exegesis) which assumes that the Bible has various levels of meaning and tends to focus on the spiritual sense (which includes the allegorical sense, the moral (or tropological) sense, and the anagogical sense) as opposed to the literal sense.  It is sometimes referred to as the Quadriga, a reference to the Roman chariot drawn by four horses.

The full caption for the map image reads:  “Christian allegorical map of The Journey of Life, or an Accurate Map of the Roads, Counties, Towns &c. in the Ways to Happiness & Misery, 1775.”

Re:  “Sarai,” or Sarah, the wife of Abraham.  Wikipedia noted that she was “the wife and also the half–sister of Abraham and the mother of Isaac…  According to Genesis 17:15, God ‘changed her name to Sarah as part of a covenant after Hagar bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael.'”

The lower image – Cristiano Banti‘s 1857 painting Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition” – is from a prior post (The latest from a “None“) and is courtesy of the article, Heresy – Wikipedia:

Galileo Galilei was brought before the Inquisition for heresy, but abjured his views and was sentenced to house arrest, under which he spent the rest of his life. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.  He was required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions. (E.A.)

Note that Galileo almost got burned at the stake – for saying the earth revolved around the sun – almost 3,000 after Moses was trying to lead his people to “the Promised Land…”

The “Overlooked Apostle,” Ruth and Mardi Gras

The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras – which is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!

*   *   *   *

St. Matthias, from a 1708 Book of Common PrayerIn case you missed it, last Friday, February 24, was the Feast Day for St. Matthias.  (The “Overlooked Apostle” – as seen at right – of which more anon.)   Then too, the end of the Book of Ruth came last Saturday, February 25, in the Daily Office Bible Readings.  And finally, Lent begins next Wednesday – March 1 – and that season of penance and fasting is preceded by Mardi Gras.

I wrote about St. Matthias in St. Matthias – and “Father Roberts.”

Briefly, Matthias was the apostle who took the place of Judas Iscariot.  (After Judas killed himself.)  Then too, Matthias is not to be confused with either St. Matthew – who wrote the first Gospel – or with Mattathias, who rebelled against the Roman Empire just before Jesus was born.  (And who in turn was the father of Judas Maccabeus, “the greatest guerrilla in Jewish history.”)

You can see more about this “substitute 12th Apostle” at St. Matthias, or in the post about him and “Father Roberts,” noted above.  But unfortunately we know so little about him that he is often referred to either as  “Unremarkable Matthias” or the “Overlooked Apostle.”

Turning to the Book of Ruth:  It’s about ”Ruth the Moabitess, the great-grandmother of David.”

 Also briefly, she – a foreigner – chose to accept the God of Israel as her God, and the Children of Israel as her people.  And this was despite the disasters that happened to her mother-in-law Naomi, as shown at left.  Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided to leave Naomi, as also shown at left.  (And a BTW:  Oprah Winfrey was originally named “Orpah,” but people got confused.*)

But it was the words that Ruth used – in refusing to leave Naomi – that made her famous:

And Ruth said, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee:  for whither thou goest, I will go;  and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:  thy people shall be my people,  and thy God my God:  Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried:  the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

And that of course was the highly-poetic King James Version.  (Which is of course “the Bible that God uses.”  And for more, see also Ruth (biblical figure) – Wikipedia.)

Finally, there’s the upcoming season of Lent to talk about.  I addressed the season last year in On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016.  That post noted that Lent is a season devoted to “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.”  But it also noted that that season of self-denial is preceded by “Fat Tuesday.”  That’s the day before Ash Wednesday, which means that this year Fat Tuesday is February 28.

The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and Mardi Gras is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!”  Or as As Wikipedia put it, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.”  That “debauchery, etc.” has come to include “showing skin for beads” as part of an “alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal.”  But because this party-time comes right before the beginning of Lent, there’s an object lesson here.  That lesson?  That “to every thing there is a season…  A time to weep, and a time to laugh;  a time to mourn, and a time to dance…*”

Have a happy and spiritually-fulfilling Season of Lent…

*   *   *   *

mardi gras

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Mardi Gras Information & Updatesnola.gov.

The black-and-white image of St. Matthias is courtesy of St. Matthias, in the Satucket website listing the Daily Office readings.

Re:  St Matthias, Apostle.  The full set of Bible readings for his feast day are:  Acts 1:15-26Psalm 15Philippians 3:13-21 and John 15:1,6-16.  The Satucket website had this to add:

The man chosen [to replace Judas] was Matthias…  Apart from the information given in the first chapter of Acts, nothing is known of him…  [And a]bout most of the other apostles (those belonging to the original twelve and later ones like Matthias) we know little after Pentecost on an individual basis.

The caption for the image of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah:  “Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab by William Blake, 1795.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to people getting confused about “Orpah” Winfrey, see Oprah Winfrey – Wikipedia:  “Winfrey was named ‘Orpah‘ on her birth certificate after the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth, but people mispronounced it regularly and ‘Oprah’ stuck.”  Also, the caption for the photo at left:  “Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986.”

Re:  “To every thing there is a season.”  See Turn! Turn! Turn! – Wikipedia, referring to the song written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, which “became an international hit in late 1965 when it was covered by the American folk rock band The Byrds.”  In turn the lyrics were taken “almost verbatim from the book of Ecclesiastes, as found in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible,” at Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  

The lower image is courtesy of A Brief History of Mardi Gras – Photo Essays – TIME, which noted that “Mardi Gras isn’t all nudity and drunken debauchery (though, yes, there is definitely nudity and drunken debauchery).  [Emphasis in original.]  The blurb below the lower image added:

Mardi Gras’ reputation as an alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal is not completely unearned.  In 1973 … the tradition of showing skin for beads began.  Native New Orleanians despise the reputation, and rarely venture into the Quarter during Carnival season.

On the Bible’s “erotic love poem…”

*   *   *   *

Antique Valentine 1909 01.jpgToday is Valentine’s Day, which makes this a perfect time to explore the Bible’s “erotic love poem.”  And besides, Lent is coming up.  (It starts on March 1, with Ash Wednesday.*)  And that means 40 days of “penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial.”

So now is the perfect time to live it up a little…

Anyway, Valentine’s Day started off as a purely “Christian liturgical feast day honoring one or more early saints named Valentinus.”  And several “martyrdom stories” circulated about various Valentines connected to February 14, the most popular being Saint Valentine of Rome.  He was imprisoned for – among other things – “ministering to Christians,” and according to one account, he healed the daughter of his jailer.  Then – shortly before his execution – he “wrote a letter [to the daughter] signed ‘Your Valentine’ as a farewell:”

The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.  In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other…

Which brings us to the Bible’s own love poem, the Song of Songs.  (Aka, “Song of Solomon.”)

Isaac Asimov wrote of the “Song of Songs” in his Guide to the Bible: Two Volumes in One.  He used five pages to cover the book,* first noting that this was the “third of the canonical books to be attributed to Solomon.”  (Shown at left, he was the son of Israel’s King David who became widely known for his wisdom, as well as for his habit of acquiring “foreign wives,” as shown below.)  Asimov added:

The Song of Solomon is a love poem, frankly erotic, apparently composed to celebrate a wedding.  This, too, is appropriate, for Solomon had numerous wives and was, presumably, an experienced lover.

(See for example, 1st Kings 11:3:  “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray,” which sounds about right…)

And here are some highlights.  For starters, the poem features a back-and-forth exchange between a man and woman.  (Together with “Others,” acting as a kind of chorus.)

It starts off with the woman saying, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (1:2, and in verse 3, she adds that “virgins love you.”)  In verse 1:13 the woman says, “My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts.”  Moving on, in 4:5 the man tells the woman: “Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies.”

In Chapter 7, verses 1-3, the man adds these observations:

Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand.  Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine.  Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.

Which raises an interesting question:  Why don’t Biblical Fundamentalists interpret the Song of Songs literally?  That is, why don’t they adhere to the “exact letter or the literal sense” of this book?  It also brings up the matter of selective interpretation.

On that note Asimov added, “Because of the erotic nature of the book, it has been customary to find allegorical values in it that would make it more than a description of bodily passion.”  Thus:

Jews would have it speak of the love between Yahveh and Israel;  Catholics of the love between Christ and the Church;  Protestants of the love between God and man’s soul.  However, if we simply accept the words as they stand, the book is a human love poem and a very beautiful one.

Which is fine, but why not be consistent?  Or in the alternative, why reject a spiritual, or even – (gasp!) – a liberal interpretation of the Bible, in favor of only a literal interpretation?

Which brings up the whole point of this blog.  The point is that if you limit your Bible-study to a purely literal interpretation, you’re robbing yourself of at least half it’s value.  (And driving potential converts away in droves.)  But if you move on from a purely literal interpretation, to an open-minded spiritual interpretation, your Bible-study can take you to exotic adventures and explorations that you couldn’t have dreamed of before.

Or as St. Paul said, God made us “servants of a new covenant not based on the letter [of the law] but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  (2d Corinthians 3:6.)

Put another way, if Jesus had been a Biblical conservative and/or literalist, we’d all still be Jewish.  And besides, by taking that “open” approach you won’t have to find a non-erotic literal-but-pure meaning of “your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand…”

*   *   *   *

“Solomon sinned by acquiring many foreign wives…”

(Which made him well-versed in the “Art of Love.”)

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Valentine’s Day – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “An English Victorian era Valentine card located in the Museum of London.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to Asimov using “five pages to cover” the Song of Songs:  The reference is to the 1981 Avenel Books edition of his Guide to the Bible, at pages 518-23.

Re:  Canonical “Solomon” Bible books.  He is said to have written Proverbs, “a collection of fables and wisdom of life;”  Ecclesiastes, a book of contemplation and self-reflection, and Song of Songs.  The black-and-white image to the left of the paragraph about him is captioned:  “An engraving, ‘Judgment of Solomon,’ by Gustave Doré (19th century).”

The “Weird Tales” image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on Isaac Asimov.  The caption:  “The novelette ‘Legal Rites,’ a collaboration with Frederik Pohl, was the only Asimov story to appear in Weird Tales.”  The article noted that in addition to his interest in science and history, Asimov was “also a noted mystery author and a frequent contributor to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.  He began by writing science fiction mysteries … but soon moved on to writing ‘pure’ mysteries.”

The lower image is courtesy of Solomon – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Solomon sinned by acquiring many foreign wives.  Solomon’s descent into idolatry, Willem de Poorter, Rijksmuseum.”

On the FIRST “Presentation of the Lord”

Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri (1).jpg

This could be called the “Second Presentation” – Good Friday, as Jesus is about to be crucified

*   *   *   *

Thursday,  February 2, is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  This presentation – of Jesus as a baby – was done in accordance with a thousand-year-old custom started by Moses.  See Exodus 13:2, where God told Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.”  And by that tradition, the consecrating came 40 days after the day of birth:

Counting forward from December 25 as Day One [for Jesus], we find that Day Forty is February 2.  A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on February 2 that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem.

Yegorov-Simeon the Righteous.jpgSee Presentation of the Lord – 2016.  (Including the image at left.)  And just to be clear, that brings up the old-timey, “once-prevalent custom of churching new mothers forty days after the birth of a child.”

That quaint custom came to be called “the churching of Women,” starting – as far as we can tell – back in the Middle Ages.  It was still offered by the Catholic Church until the 1960s, but then discontinued.  (The Anglican Church still offers the service, but it seems rarely used.)  

Among other things, that quaint practice took place in “the good old days when giving birth was a time of real and great danger for all mothers.  Accordingly, the usual prayer of Thanksgiving went something like this:  “ALMIGHTY God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast vouchsafed to deliver this woman thy servant from the great pain and peril of child-birth.”

Beyond that, this once-prevalent ritual drew “on the imagery and symbolism” of the original Presentation of the Lord, celebrated on February 2.  But for Mary, there was the problem of Virgin birth.  (She hadn’t been “sullied” in the normal manner of procreation.)  

The answer?  According to church practice, even though Mary had “borne Christ without incurring impurity” – that is, the usual “impurity” involved in conception – “she went to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses.”  In other words, in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, Mary went through the ritual that became known as The Churching of Women, even though she didn’t have to.

And of course, to set a good example.

But we digress…

You can see the Bible readings for the day at Presentation of Jesus.  They include Malachi 3:1 – seen at right – where God said, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  And of course Luke 2:22-23:

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord…”  (E.A.)

And that ritual – “required by the law of Moses” –  in turn went back to the time of Moses, as detailed in Exodus 13 and as already noted.

For more on the February 2 Feast Day, check out Presentation of the Lord – 2016.  But the ritual described in this post brings up what might be called “the Second Presentation of the Lord.”

That Second Presentation came when Jesus was “presented to the people of Jerusalem.”  But this time it came at the hands of Pontius Pilate, on what turned out to be the day before He was crucified.  This Second Time Around came when Jesus was “presented,” but not in the religious Temple in Jerusalem.  Rather, it came in the praetorium of the secular power.  (See Pilate’s court, which noted two possible sites for this trial;  either the Antonia Fortress or Herod’s Palace.)

The point being that from the time He was first “presented” at just over a month old, Jesus’ life was one long journey to the Second Presentation.  (On the eve of His making the ritual sacrifice that would literally change history, if not “split history in two.”)  In the same way, this February 2 marks the beginning of our own spiritual journey:  through Epiphany, then Mardi Gras – as seen above left – followed by Lent, and then on into Easter Week.

And all of which reminds us that life is not all fun and games.  Put another way, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.”  (BTW:  That 1944 song by The Ink Spots was based on a quotation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s poem, The Rainy Day.)  Which is another way of saying that while we know those “rainy days” are coming – that our lives will be interrupted by pain and suffering – we also know that we have “already won the Game of Life.*”

That is, we as practicing Christians know how our lives are going to turn out.  We already know we’re going to have a happy ending.  It’s just those “in between” details that worry us.

On that note, yesterday I ran across a Bible passage apropos to current events.  The Daily Office Readings for February 1 included Isaiah 54:15:  “If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me…”

“Just sayin’…”

*   *   *   *

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Pontius Pilate – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Ecce Homo (‘Behold the Man’), Antonio Ciseri‘s depiction of Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus to the people of Jerusalem.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to knowing “that we have already won the Game of Life,” see Two Marys and a James – Saints, which indicated that the spiritual life is like water-skiing:

As yours truly once wrote, starting your spiritual pilgrimage by reading the Bible on a regular basis “is a bit like water-skiing,” or more precisely, “a bit like grabbing the handle of the rope” attached to a metaphoric “Big Motorboat in the Sky…  Once you grab on, your main job is simply to hang on for dear life…”

*   *   *   *

Re:  The full Daily Office Readings for Wednesday, February 1, 2017:  “AM Psalm 72; PM Psalm 119:73-96Isaiah 54:1-10(11-17); Galatians 4:21-31; and Mark 8:11-26.”  They also included the readings for the Eve of the Presentation:  “PM: Psalm 113, 122; 1 Samuel 1:20-28a; Romans 8:14-21.”

The “Mardi Gras” image is courtesy of Mardi Gras Information & Updatesnola.gov.

Re:  Rainy Day, by Longfellow.  One line reads:  “My life is cold, and dark, and dreary.”  Another:  “Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.”  But there’s also this line of hope: “Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;  Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”

Re:  “Just sayin.'”  I first used that phrase for this blog in The True Test of Faith, in February 2015.

The lower image is courtesy of Chaos Defines Trump’s First Week in Office – NBC News.  See also Analysis: Trump’s start creates chaos, and Chaos, anger as Trump order halts some Muslim immigrants.  BTW:  The search term “trump chaos” got me 1,430,000 results.  The search term “trump strife” got me 565,000 results.